Benighted in the Mamores, 19-20 February 1984

Route: Am Bodach and the Mamores including an unplanned overnight bivvi

The same party as yesterday set off from the tin shack hut in Glen Nevis, about nine o’clock. We headed up a valley which my notes call “a tributary valley” leading to the main ridge of the Mamores. Someway up the valley, one of us turned back. The rest of us continued until we got to the edge of the first snowfield. At that point – this was the right and useful influence of the Outdoor Ed students – all stopped for a thorough session practicing ice-axe braking.

Onward over hard frozen snow. To our right, Stob Ban soared – grey rock and white snow against the blue sky. Against a fierce wind, we arrived at the lip of the corrie and saw the summit ridge. The corrie was a metre or deeper in snow. We sheltered from the howling wind in a snow cave built by some other mountaineers. On the corrie floor, were the remains of an igloo.

After lunch we continued, refreshed, but nonetheless into the teeth of the gale, up onto the ridge. Absolutely magnificent scenery – I had never seen anything like it. Mountain after mountain was stacked up on the right, off to the horizon, whilst behind us, the rest of the ridge arced away. Still in the company of the shrieking wind, we climbed up to the summit in bright sunshine, under blue skies. Over the summit, down the other side, an enormous and steep descent, corniced on the left. On the right, a corrie filled with snow, no single rock in sight. I found the descent hair-raising but would not have missed it for the world. We came to a col; on the left, far below, was another tributary valley of Glen Nevis. It was a hanging valley: it did not at that point cross our minds that the cliff over which the stream descended into Glen Nevis, might prove impassable. It was 3pm.

We moved onto the next peak in the ridge, Am Bhodach. Breathless on the top, we spoke briefly with another party there. We gazed down the ridge; a party were slowly hacking their way up to the summit. We ourselves moved onto the very steep valley side, and carefully, our more experienced colleagues cut steps downward. [22/1/21 At getting on for 40 years remove am not sure why this was necessary when we all must have had crampons and were familiar with their use. It must have been very steep and very hard snow.] A little way along, Nigel thought we’d be better turning back; he climbed back to the ridge, cut through the cornice, and prepared to belay us all back onto the ridge. There was a disagreement; the party felt that this was not the way to go; we continued downwards slowly, two or three times on a rope, through a lot of cut steps, until the slope slackened to the extent that we could glissade harmlessly to the valley floor. Unfortunately, it was now dark.

We hurried along the valley, singing. When the darkness was quite complete, the valley became a gorge. The path became very tricky, frequently covered in frozen puddles which were lethal in torchlight. The thunder of the falls came to our ears as a death knell, as it were. There may be a way down from above the Steall Falls but we were not going to be successful in finding it in darkness. It just fell away from us in distant tantalising shapes. It was very much with the taste of defeat in our mouths, that we conceded the need to bivouac. It was Sunday night. We were very much aware of the trouble this would cause.

The Steall Falls in Glen Nevis, seen the day after

Apart from a change of bivvi site during the night, the bivvi was harmless. I spent quite some time with my feet and legs in my rucsac to keep them warm. We were away, shivering like leaves, at 7am. In the grey light of dawn we backtracked, crossed into the next valley, and descended into Glen Nevis to meet our fate.